Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
I have noticed, and tradition confirms, that the efficacy of mantra meditation depends significantly upon the quality of chanting. It is not that one’s effort creates the effect of the mantra, but one must make the effort not to block the effect of the mantra — to open oneself fully to the mercy within it.
I would like to suggest chanting with five qualities, which I also think of as five “steps” towards efficacious, quality mantra meditation:
- Be Attentive
- Be Introspective
- Be Sincere
- Be Sweet
- Have Longing
The main focus of this step is to pay attention to the mantra itself. I have found it most effective to treat each syllable of the mantra as something important – and focus my attention on hearing that I am correctly enunciating each syllable each time I repeat the mantra.
The Hare Krishna maha-mantra has 32 syllables. The two sonically symmetrical lines of the mantra each have 16. Within each line are four word pairs, each with a symmetrical four syllables. Each word in each pair has two syllables. This perfect sonic symmetry will reflect in the sound I produce when I make sure to actually chant each syllable.
Mantras bear fruit when chanted correctly. The maha-mantra is not a mechanical ritual, but the general principle is still valid. Its fruit is the topmost goal of being: selfless divine love, prema bhakti. Be sure to include each syllable in each repetition of the mantra and certainly one will begin to taste its fruit at least in the budding stage.
We must avoid extraneous thoughts when chanting. We do that by becoming more sensitive to thoughts that are directly related to the mantra. I call this “Introspective Chanting.”
Once I am chanting the syllables properly, I direct attention inward to become more aware of how I feel in response to the chant. First I try to literally feel the mantra vibrating in every pore and cell of my body. This focuses my attention on how the mantra is directly affecting me. I also try to listen for any instinctual response to the spiritual sound that is permeating me and vibrating in my being.
Since the sound of the mantra is non-different from Radha-Krishna Themselves, my responses to that sound are the very fledgling beginnings of my soul awakening to krishna-prema. Listen for them introspectively while enunciating the mantra’s 32 syllables.
Now that I am enunciating all the syllables with introspective alertness to the effect of the vibration, the next step is to deepen my sincerity.
To do this, I try to focus on the all-important attitude of love: the desire to serve Sri Sri Radha and Krishna, who are named in the 32 syllables of the divine mantra. I now try to experience the mantra not only as Krishna but also as prayer to Krishna. So, I now turn my ear towards the sound of sincerity within the mantra I am pronouncing. I find that by listening for sincerity, I automatically try to produce more of it. So gradually my recitation of the mantra produces the sound of heartfelt desire to be pleasing and loving towards Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.
The sincerity in my chanting leads me to want to serve and please the object of the mantra: Radha-Krishna. Naturally, then, my next step is to shift the focus from my experience of the chant to Krishna’s experience of it.
Now I open myself to the mantra as the shakti of Krishna. Being Krishna’s shakti it exists for the sake of pleasing him. Opening myself to this, I hope to enter into the ocean of divine loving service that exists within the maha-mantra itself.
My main effort at this stage is to make the sound of the mantra I enunciate more pleasant, beautiful, loving and sweet. I have found it helpful to visualize Sri Krishna and Radha before me, listening to my chanting.
Chanting with Longing
As I envision Sri Sri Radha-Krishna near me, listening to my chanting, inevitably I must come to face the objective fact that They are not truly there, at least not in the tangible manner like I am envisioning. My goal at this step is to allow that truth to fill my heart with a bittersweet sadness. Sadness generates need, and need expresses itself as “longing.” In the fifth step of effective chanting I therefore try to focus on and amplify a longing for my hopes and visions within the maha-mantra to become a far more tangibly objective reality.
My main effort at this stage is to ignore all other desires in my heart and find the small voice of desire that longs for perfection of selfless divine love. I speak the maha-mantra to that voice, encouraging it to speak up. Louder and louder I want the maha-mantra to amplify that once small inner voice until it drowns out all other voices within me.
The perfection of my chanting comes when the longing need of that voice bursts through and expresses itself through stuttering and crying like a lost child crying out for her mother.
When I am done with my chanting session, I try not to focus on what I did not accomplish, but on what I did. I want to feel thankful to the mantra and grateful towards Krishna and those who have given me the rare and precious opportunity to attempt to chant it more fully and deeply. I want to feel grateful for whatever small steps they have empowered me to make during this chanting session.
As a practice, therefore, I like to conclude my chanting by folding my hands in prayer and encouraging that gratitude to flow through my hands towards my kind guides and protectors and towards the lotus-like feet of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.
Actually, I would like the mood of gratitude to permeate all the five steps of chanting.
There are no rules about when, where or how to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. You can and should chant the maha-mantra in the way that fits you as an individual. I have personally found that these five steps have significantly improved my own relationship to the divine mantra, and I hope they will also be of help to other servants of the holy name.